Traveling to a fun destination is definitely one of those unseen Catch-22’s in life. Amidst all the excitement of hitting up a new fun spot and/or seeing family and friends is always the pain of the actual travel. It seems like one of those situations which would be called a “first world” pain. Are you really complaining about getting the opportunity to fly somewhere fun, when millions can barely afford a trip to buy clean water? Yes, yes, we know the whole spiel. But this isn’t about having the opportunity to vacation – it’s about traveling through an airport that you feel comfortable in and that you trust will get you to your destination in a safe and timely manner.
Through my recent travels, I have to say that I was absolutely flabbergasted with a horrible experience at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, NY. Having flown to the city before, I had previously used the more inexpensive nearby airports, La Guardia and Newark. I had assumed because of its more central location and it being the main airport to one of the most visited and metropolitan cities in the world, JFK would be an impressive hub to travel through. The truth couldn’t be further from my assumption. New York City has many things to boast about, but its airport is bad enough to make even The Big Apple flush with embarrassment – no pun intended. (Keep reading, you’ll get it later.)
Is this a storm shelter?
When I landed in JFK for the first time, I didn’t give it another thought when we were unloaded right on the tarmac instead of a proper gate. I had experienced this in other airports when flying on really small connection flights or when there was an issue securing a gate. What did strike me was my first sight as I came into the airport. The unbelievably small space was literally teeming with people running around in all different directs and crawling around like cockroaches. I thought I had landed in a regional airport because of the small quarters and cramped space. There was so much chaos that I could barely navigate through to exit. I thought that maybe it was a busy day and squashed my annoyances. All I wanted to do was get out and get to the city.
Lo and behold, the trip back was no different. Most international airports can actually be a hassle because of how spaced out the gates are that it can seem like you’re participating in a marathon wheeling around luggage, panting to make it on time. JFK couldn’t be more opposite. Gates 23-27 seemed to be situated in a small rectangle with people practically slamming into one another. The overcrowded areas meant people weren’t even able to sit at their proper gates, leading to more confusion and stress. More than one family was camped out in a corner or against a column, but it was the sheer lack of space I couldn’t get over. It really felt like a storm shelter housing victims and being run by people who were almost just as helpless.
Would rather pee in a gas station
This is a hefty statement to stand behind, but there was more than one disgusted face than just mine at JFK. The facilities were probably as small as a public school’s with about 7 stalls. More than one stall had an unbroken lock and upon entering, one stall had an overflow of toilet paper with a tampon applicator on the floor. More than one automatic faucet didn’t work and the counters had pools of water running off the edges. My flight was an evening flight and even having flown during peak times at other international airports, I have never been so disgusted. The water fountains outside the bathrooms were stained with (what I’m assuming) was soda and not working either.
Above all else that baffled me was that there seemed to be at least 3-4 flights boarding out of one gate because they were all loading from the tarmac. My flight’s gate was changed and the monitor at the previous gate gave no indication even though it listed the other 3 flights leaving from that gate. When I found my gate, it still gave no indication that my flight was leaving from there. When the flight was delayed by over 90 min., I only found out when another passenger came back to tell his family what he had found out through the Help desk. There was still no monitor that told us our flight was delayed, let alone that it was even leaving from that gate! I can’t recall any announcements being made about all the changes and even the airport employees realized the communication problem; they found they needed to go from gate to gate to make sure no passengers were left behind on a flight that was boarding. The monitors took copious amounts of time to update what was actually going on, and constant vigilance was a must because there was an actual fear that between the gate changes, miscommunication and disorganization, you would miss your flight in a moment of distraction. Again, I found myself asking myself, “This is JFK International Airport?!” Unsurprisingly, my flight still didn’t leave when it was supposed to. Possibly a fault of the airline itself, but either way it added to the unpleasant experience.
Where do I eat?
Most airports have an endless assortment of overpriced eateries to choose from. If JFK even had this many options, it would’ve been a plus. Without about 5 places to choose from in that rectangular space, I settled on a sandwich place that must have been sent from God because it was actually great food for the average airport price. Other choices I considered: a Starbucks and a fancy sports bar where most people were drinking away their delay troubles.
Somehow JFK came through for all of its storm victims when they began to pass out mini Dasani water bottles, other drinks and some of those flight snacks to hold us off. Maybe it was a courtesy offered by Delta, but it was a pleasant surprise nonetheless.
I’ll see you when I — hopefully never
Had I been able to, I would have taken some great pictures to back up my critical remarks, but alas, my phone was lost in the sands of time of a NYC cab. If you will take my word for it though, beware of flying through JFK if en route to NYC. I have no earthly idea at this point why it is the most expensive to fly through, but it is not worth it. La Guardia offers a decent location and transportation to the city just as conveniently as JFK and isn’t nearly as bad.
It is definitely time for a renovation NYC!